Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time has finally released on the PS4 and XBox One; and thanks to Activision I got a review copy of the game. Unlike past reviews, I wanted to take my time with this one because there was so much about this game I wanted to get a proper feel for. Between alternate playable characters, punishing Flashback levels, Time Trials and various types of N. Verted levels – not to mention the normal levels themselves – there was a LOT of content I wanted to sink my teeth into. And as someone who’s never particularly been good at Crash Bandicoot games – that’s saying something right off the bat!
Full disclosure, I’ve always been a fan of Crash and his associated games; but I’ve never been particularly good at them. Maybe it’s the gaming masochist in me or maybe I just see it as something you don’t have to be good at to enjoy. And when I tried the Demo a few weeks ago, that feeling largely remained and I figured I’d need to get good – and fast – to properly enjoy this long awaited entry. Although as my play through of Crash 4 began to play out, I found a much more approachable – and yet still punishingly challenging – game than I had anticipated!
A Platform Game at its Finest!
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time takes everything that was charming about the original series and expands upon it in such a way that every new facet of gameplay feels like it was there from the start. Wall runs, rail grinds and the multiple alternate character gameplay mechanics all feel distinctly Crash even though they’ve never been in the series before. Though with all these changes to gameplay, the level design had to evolve as well and in this regard, my only critique of the Crash series past has been undone: limited level scope.
When it comes to platformers, I was also much more of a fan of open world 3d platformers like Spyro the Dragon and Mario 64. Crash was fun to play; but comparatively the levels felt incredibly tight and restrictive. Even though Crash 4 keeps a similar gameplay style, the levels have been widened considerably and they actually begin to feel like full blown levels as opposed to something you could nowadays find crammed onto a smartphone. This is all the more enhanced when looking at the level designs themselves. Even in the most narrow of corridors, there is so much detail put into each level that you’re given the illusion of a vast sprawling setting. At times, I legit felt like I was playing a Ratchet & Clank game in terms of navigation, and that feeling just works with the Crash formula so well!
The variations in gameplay – not only between characters but also level types – is also an incredible breath of fresh air that keeps you engaged for hours! Of course there’s the only faithful level layouts as well as ‘run away’ levels and boss stages; but it’s the side scroller flashback levels and bonus rounds that offer a great chance to focus on the puzzle aspects. Similarly, N. Verted Mode comes in a multitude of ‘flavors’ and each has its own style. Some simply darken the world and you need to rely on your actions to reveal it – like the color splash and echolocation versions – while others submerge the entire level in water and mess with the gravity. From the most straight forward of encounters to the most complex of puzzles, Crash 4 does a wonderful job of checking off as many boxes as possible while still giving each loads of attention!
Enjoyable for Both Competitive and Casual Players:
Discussions on the ‘difficulty’ of a game are inevitable. How do you make a game that is both accessible to casual players while still offering sufficient challenge to the more hardcore gamer? This is something a lot of games struggle with – or don’t address at all. Should games be easier so that players can enjoy the story (think Sekiro)? Are some games too easy and thus cause their player base to come up with their own challenge ideas (think Pokemon Nuzlocke runs). While I’m sure these discussions are already beginning with Crash 4, in my opinion, this is the first game I’ve seen to truly strike a rewarding – and approachable – balance of the two. And it’s important to note that when I say ‘approachable’, I don’t mean dumbed-down.
Whereas there are aspects in the game that some hardcore fans could see as ‘hand-holding’ – such as the Modern Mode and drop shadow – they’re not there to simply make things easier; but rather help you to improve so you can face the later challenges better. In this way it’s better to think of them like training wheels; and I’ll revisit the Pokemon comparison to illustrate. In Pokemon Let’s Go, you couldn’t enter a gym without a Pokemon on your team that was ‘super effective’ against the Gym Leader. Yes, this teaches the player about type effectiveness but there’s no major pay off where this knowledge is truly put to the test. In Crash 4, Modern Mode and the drop shadow help you learn how to best deal with obstacles and improve your timing! These skills are ABSOLUTELY necessary if you want to deal with some of the game’s tougher objectives – and I don’t even mean N. Verted Mode or Flashback levels. The Platinum – and especially Purple – Time Trial Relics as well as the N. Sanely Perfect relics require run efficiency that is nothing short of incredible!
But in the end though, Lou Studdert (Design Producer, Toys for Bob) and Canadian Guy Eh (Youtuber/ Crash & Spyro Expert) explained it best on Twitter. Whether you master every level or just finish, whether you get every lore/ story reference or just enjoy the story that is currently unfolding, this is a game meant for everyone! So whether you’re the most casual of casuals or the most diehard of diehards, this game will give you whatever experience you’re looking for!
In terms of ‘does this game have any negatives’, there’s nothing that breaks the game nor makes me want to put it down. That being said though, I do think the some alternate characters could have benefited from some sort of dedicated aiming mechanic – and I don’t even mean a 1st person mode. This doesn’ti really apply to Tawna as her grapple hook does signify ‘target’s quite well. It’s also not that noticeable with Cortex as it’s only in later levels where enemies are placed at more difficult angles for his gun to hit. The main offender is mostly Dingodile as there’s multiple sections across his levels where you have to retry a shot multiple times because you never know what direction or how far his shot will go. Again, this isn’t game breaking by any means and the Dingodile levels are by far some of my favorites! Although, if these alternate levels were to return in future games – or they made a spin off where these characters were the focus – this is definitely a function that should be added.
Overall though, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a stunning game in terms of gameplay, level design, and storytelling. Completing challenge runs of a level have never felt so satisfying; and there’s genuine story moments where I burst out laughing. We’ve seen Toys for Bob and Beenox recreate past video games before; but this was our first time seeing if they could expand upon a series with a new title. In the end, it’s not the N. Sane Trilogy or even CTR: Nitro-Fueled that show Crash Bandicoot as a series to be alive and well. It’s Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time that definitively brings Crash into the modern era and shows that the franchise’s glory days aren’t behind it – but rather in front of it!